Table of Contents

    Cover Story
  • Free A Cauldron of Opposition in Duncan's Hometown

    An Interview with Karen Lewis and Jackson Potter

    translation missing: en.articles.interviewers Bob Peterson

    The new leadership of the Chicago Teachers Union explains how they won and where they're going.

  • Cover Stories
  • The Proving Grounds

    School 'Rheeform' in Washington, D.C.

    Authored By Leigh Dingerson

    Michelle Rhee is the exemplar of Duncan's school "reform." What's really happening to children and teachers in D.C.?

  • California’s Perfect Storm

    Authored By David Bacon

    Last year, demonstrations by students, teachers, parents, and staff erupted throughout California - with the potential to redefine the fight for public education.

  • Book Reviews
  • Free Teacher Layoffs and War

    Edited By the editors of Rethinking Schools
  • Features
  • Free Who Can Stay Here?

    Documentation and citizenship in children’s literature

    Authored By Grace Cornell

    Picture books about immigration and citizenship rarely portray the issues that children from immigrant families face every day. Here is a framework to help teachers choose books and open discussion.

  • Free Deporting Elena’s Father

    Authored By Melissa Bollow Tempel

    The story of one child whose father was deported casts light on a growing crisis.

  • The Other Internment

    Teaching the hidden story of Japanese Latin Americans during WWII

    Authored By Moe Yonamine

    A role play engages students in exploration of a little-known piece of history - the deportation of people of Japanese origin from Latin American countries to U.S. internment camps and back to Japan as POWs.

  • You Are Where You Sit

    Uncovering the lessons of classroom furniture

    Students analyze the impact of different seating arrangements in class, linking issues of power, space, and hierarchy to the world outside.

  • A Social Justice Data Fair

    Questioning the world through math

    Math is at the center of student-generated projects on environmental, social, and political themes.

  • Departments Free
    Action Education
  • Puerto Rican Students Win Major Victory

    Authored By Jody Sokolower
  • Good Stuff
  • Tricksters and Their Opposite

    Authored By Herbert Kohl
  • Review
  • Drop That Knowledge

    Recognizing and unlocking the wisdom of everyday people

  • Resources
  • Our picks for books, videos, websites, and other social justice education resources.

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The Other Internment

Teaching the hidden story of Japanese Latin Americans during WWII
The Other Internment

My unit on the largely unknown history of the internment of Japanese Latin Americans began 12 years ago. I was on a bus from Portland, Ore., to Tule Lake, Calif., site of one of the largest Japanese American incarceration camps during World War II. I am from Japan, the elder sitting next to me said in Japanese. But I am originally from Peru. For me, it was an honorable coincidence to find myself next to this elder.

An elder sitting in front of us turned around and said in English, He looks very familiar. As I translated their conversation, it came out that they were both young boys interned at Tule Lake. I know him! said the Japanese American elder. He was my friend! Grabbing the Peruvian mans hand and shaking it firmly, he explained that they played baseball together often but that one day his friend just disappeared. His friend had only spoken Spanish, so he could never ask him what he was doing in the camp. He had wondered all of these years what had happened to him. The Peruvian Japanese elders face beamed with joy as the two continued to shake hands, not letting go. I am so glad you are safe, he said. They had reunited after more than 50 years.

Among those who attended the Tule Lake Pilgrimage were children and grandchildren of internees who hoped to learn from the oral stories of the elders. Many have since joined the Campaign for Justice, seeking redress from the U.S. government for orchestrating and financing the forcible deportation and incarceration of Japanese Latin Americans (JLAs) during World War II.

This is the little-known background to the unit that I decided to teach my 8th-grade U.S. history students: Even before Pearl Harbor, in October 1941, the U.S. government initiated plans to construct an internment camp near the Panama Canal Zone for JLAs. The United States targeted JLAs it deemed security threats and pressured Latin American governments to round them up and turn them over, prompting Peru to engage in the mass arrest of Japanese descendents it sought to expel. Beginning in 1942, 13 Latin American governments arrested more than 2,300 JLAs in their countries (more than 80 percent from Peru), including teachers, farmers, barbers, and businessmen. The U.S. government transported the JLAs from Panama to internment camps in the United States, confiscating passports and visas. Two prisoner exchanges with Japan took place in 1942 and 1943 of at least 800 JLAsmany of whom had never been to Japan. Fourteen hundred JLAs remained in U.S. internment camps until the end of the war, when the government deemed them illegal aliens. Meanwhile, the Peruvian government refused to readmit any of its citizens of Japanese origin. With nowhere to go, more than 900 Japanese Peruvians were deported to Japan in December 1945. Some JLA survivors are now telling their stories for the first time; new information is still being uncovered.

As an Okinawan, this history hit close to my heart. In The Japanese in Latin America, I learned that large waves of Okinawans migrated to South America beginning in the late 1800s as the once sovereign Ryukyu island chain was brought under Japanese control. By the time WWII began, the majority of immigrants to Peru were Okinawan. There was also a large group in Brazil. Many families in Okinawa today have relatives from South America including my own, but stories of their migration and their lives thereafter remain largely untold.

My own questions turned into my inquiry as a history teacher. How can I teach 8th graders to imagine the experiences of people from another time in history and make connections to today? How can I teach them about social injustice in a way that will make them feel empowered and not cynical? How can I encourage students to visualize what a just world would look like to them?

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